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ND Softball: Irish dominate Valpo, will host Pittsburgh in doubleheader

Kelsey Manning | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

With consistent pitching that kept eight Crusaders stranded on base and an explosive offensive effort kicked off by an early two-run home run by junior Dani Miller, Notre Dame dismantled in-state rival Valparaiso by a count of 10-2 in six innings yesterday.

The game showcased the two elements of the game No. 21 Notre Dame (39-8, 14-1 Big East) has improved upon most this season, junior outfielder Alexa Maldonado said.

“Our biggest change [from the beginning of the season] is getting key hits when they are needed,” Maldonado said. “In the beginning of the season we were leaving a lot of runners in scoring position stranded on base.  Now we are getting key hits from every spot in the lineup.”

Miller’s first-inning homer was her fourth in as many career contests against the Crusaders, a series in which Notre Dame has now claimed victory for the 30th time in a row. In just her second start as a designated hitter, freshman outfielder Lauren Stuhr added a two-run homer of her own during the fourth to put the Irish up four. She had two hits and four RBIs in the contest, as did senior slugger Heather Johnson, while Maldonado and senior catcher Lex Clay both scored twice.

Though the Crusaders (30-19-1) managed to get four hits off freshman pitcher Laura Winter and cut the Irish lead in half, two innings of scoreless relief by sophomore pitcher Brittany O’Donnell were enough to keep Valparaiso at a safe distance.

Tonight the Irish face Big East opponent Pittsburgh in a home doubleheader in Melissa Cook Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPNU, and Maldonado said the team is ready to show how far they have come.

“We look forward to our TV games every year,” she said. “It’s so exciting because it’s like being famous. We are definitely extra motivated to win because we know a lot of people are watching us. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves. We will be looking to definitely playing our best softball.”

As the Irish try to hold on to their top spot in the Big East as the postseason grows closer, Maldonado said the main obstacle will be mental focus.

“The most difficult thing to deal with is staying relaxed and not getting frustrated,” Maldonado said. “The better competition we play, the bigger the challenge. Even if beating these teams is more difficult, we need to stay calm and continue to focus on getting the job done.”

This will be especially crucial as the squad wraps up regular season play this weekend with a series at Connecticut.

“The biggest challenge that Connecticut will pose this weekend will definitely be that we could have a philosophy to take them lightly,” Maldonado said. “However, we will not do that. As long as we don’t play down to their level, we will beat them. They’re the kind of team that if we let them stay in the game they will keep fighting. We just need to put them away early.”

The Irish will attempt to build on an eight game win streak as they take on Pittsburgh this evening at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Melissa Cook Stadium. Coverage will begin at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.